The Wonder Report: October 8, 2021
The Posture of Curiosity
Hello again! It’s been a rainy fall week here in Indiana, but that hasn’t kept us from cheering on our son at a cross country meet, celebrating a two-year-old’s birthday, and taking lots of walks with the dogs. Even if it means getting a little wet, I’m soaking up these shorter and shorter days when we can still be outside. (Though I have to say, making it a priority to get outside a little each day in winter also makes that season more wondrous!)
We’re continuing our October theme this week by exploring the posture of curiosity, or how we position ourselves to be open and receptive to the world around us.
Here we go!
1. Up Close and Personal
Back in July, my brother and nephew visited for a week. Mostly they were here to spend time with Mom, who, as we now know, was in her very last days. But their visit also gave me some time to rest and reset from my caregiving responsibilities (which at the time were overwhelming) and to live life with a 13-year-old again (which was as exhilarating as it was exhausting).
Throughout the week, we played mini golf, visited the zoo, hung out with extended family, ate lunch at our city’s annual Hot Dog Festival, and spent way too much money at Hobby Lobby. But my nephew’s favorite part of the week—and mine—was the couple of hours we spent down at Prairie Creek picking up trash, catching crawdads, and wooing dragonflies.
Often I think of the posture of wonder as looking up, hands raised in awe. But after that week, and especially when I looked back at that last photo of my nephew crouched down in the middle of the creek, I think wonder might also be kneeling down, getting close, letting our interest draw us near. This is the posture of curiosity.
When I read the Gospels, I often imagine Jesus walking the paths and roads of Judea, stopping to run his hand through the wheat, leaning down to smell the lilies, looking intently at the fig tree that refuses to fruit. Did he collect shells and seaweed along the Sea of Galilee? Did he cup his hand over his face to block the sun as he watched the ravens soaring through the air? Had he passed by a fox hole and bird nest the very morning that he compared his own life to them? (Matt. 8:20)
As the creator and sustainer of the world, he surely knew a thing or two about fish and wind and stones. But he was also a man, deeply attentive to the world around him and well acquainted with the joy of curiosity. And he invited his disciples into this same posture by asking them to look, consider, listen, taste, touch. He wanted them to pay attention.
When we live curiously, we live expectantly. Watchfully. We observe the world and anticipate what happens next. But we don’t assume we’re always right. Instead, curiosity allows us to learn from our mistakes and remain open to mystery.
Jesus appeals to our sense of curiosity when he invites us into his kingdom. There’s more to life than the pleasures and pain of this world, he assures us. But the true value of life in His kingdom isn’t always so obvious. You have to ask, seek, and knock, he says. And then He promises a good return on that curiosity: “Everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
In the same way, David invites us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” in Psalm 34. It’s as if he’s saying: Don’t assume that you know everything there is to know about God. Get curious. Lean in. Draw near. “Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him” (Psalm 34:8, The Message).
I wonder … when was the last time you followed your curiosity and took a deeper look at something? What role has curiosity played in your faith journey? Do you find that you are generally attentive and open to the world around you? Or are you too distracted and busy to really see and hear and taste? How could you be more curious this week?
2. The Search Function vs. Serendipity
A recent article from The Verge, “FILE NOT FOUND: A generation that grew up with Google is forcing professors to rethink their lesson plans,” explores the way younger and older generations think about hierarchical organization, particularly in digital spaces, and the role that the now ubiquitous search function—on our computers, phones, iPads, and more—makes elaborate organization somewhat obsolete.
If at this point you’re thinking, “Huh? Why is she including this in a newsletter about curiosity,” here’s where I’m going with it: For one, I love the way the professors interviewed for this story followed their curiosity about why students couldn’t find their files anymore. In this way, curiosity transforms problems into opportunities. But it also got me thinking about the way search functions both help and hinder our curiosity.
Search engines help our curiosity by allowing us to follow whims and explore hunches. When my brain starts circling around the phrase, “I wonder …,” that’s when I usually start searching. I type key words into a browser over and over until I begin to track down what I’m looking for.
On the other hand, limiting our finds to our capacity to ask means our curiosity no longer has serendipity on its side. When I want a book from the library, for instance, rather than show up at the actual building, search the stacks based on the Library of Congress hierarchical organization system, and uncover not only the book I was interested in but a dozen more, I now search the library’s online catalog using the book title or the author’s name, find the one book I want, click a button to reserve it, and pick it up at the front desk. I’m curious: What have I missed out on by using the search function?
Or think about it like this. Recently, we stopped by Meijer to buy a couple of children’s books for a birthday gift. After wondering around the store for a minute or two, we eventually found the books. I browsed through the shelves and picked out a couple of dinosaur books to buy. (Remember that two-year-old’s birthday party I mentioned?) And then decided to look around a little more just because.
We’d been looking around for a few minutes when Jacob, our youngest son, said: “They really could do a better job at organizing these books.” And sure enough, for an entire aisle, there was no detectable rhyme or reason to which books were placed where other than that these were all supposedly “New and Notable” books.
“It’s probably because they want you to have to look around more to find the book you want,” I said. “And in the meantime, you’ll find something else to buy.”
It was about that time that I saw the latest book in a series Steve and I have been reading—a book I hadn’t been able to get from the library yet—and so we scooped that one up too.
Serendipity may not be so good for the wallet, but it certainly seems like the more curious option.
3. Cultivating Curiosity by Reading Poetry
Wondering how to be more curious yourself? Try reading more poetry.
I know plenty of people who don’t like poetry because they don’t know what it means. And to be sure, poetry doesn’t always have a straightforward message. But that’s actually a good thing. Poetry invites us to imagine, to ask questions, to reconsider. In other words, poetry encourages curiosity.
When you read poetry, rather than trying to figure out what it means,
listen to the sound of it being read aloud. Does it rhyme? Does it have rhythm. Are there words you’ve never heard before? Are there words that are repeated?
pay attention to the emotions it’s trying to create. How does the poem make you feel? What words are doing that work?
pick out the images the poem creates. Look for sensory descriptions, specific place names, and familiar items.
In the podcast Poetry Unbound, Irish poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama models how to spend time with poetry like this. I particularly love the episode where he follows his curiosity through Li-Young Lee’s poem, “From Blossoms.” Even the introduction to that episode reveals how reading and exploring poetry can awaken our curiosity.
While I was leading Corrymeela, I was walking from one building to another. And Corrymeela is right on the north coast of Ireland. And a woman was standing there in the morning light, looking out at the sea. And she came over and she said, “I was supposed to be part of a meeting, but I saw the light, and I realized standing in the light was more important.” And then she said, “My brother died a few months ago, and I never thought I’d ever be happy again.” And she was so caught up in the moment, it was like she was living inside a poem. And I stood with her for a while, smelling the salt in the air, smelling the heather and the blossoms of summer. And I think that, sometimes, an experience we have can be a poem in and of itself.
Thanks again for sharing this time with me. If you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. It’s one of my favorite features of this platform.
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Until next time,